All posts by Chris McClintick

Mudge Targets Eighth Tavern Club Title With Defending Champion Mathur

DSC_0520

One year after facing off against each other in the 2016 Tavern Club Invitational final, world No. 1 Manek Mathur & world No. 2 Damien Mudge return to Cleveland as the title favorites as they near the end of a dominant SDA Tour season.

Last year, Mathur earned his first Tavern Club title in a one-off pairing with former world No. 1 Ben Gould—Mudge’s partner of five years—while Mudge reunited with his partner from 2009-2010, Viktor Berg, for much of the 2015-2016 season. Mathur & Gould’s marathon five-game final victory sent Gould level with Mudge as the all-time Tavern Club title leaders with seven each.

In the offseason, Mathur & Mudge joined forces to and returned to the tour in the fall as a new power partnership. In their first season together, Mathur & Mudge have lost just one match all season—the season-opening Maryland Club Open final—and have won seven titles in seven tournaments since that loss in October. If the top seeds earn the title this year, Mudge would move past Gould with his eighth title since his first in 2008.

A diverse draw will aim to thwart the top seeds’ title hopes, however. Canada’s Will Mariani & Fred Reid enter the draw as the four seeds with a predicted semifinal against Mathur & Mudge. Reid has enjoyed his most successful SDA season to date with two major semifinal runs in the Jim Bentley Cup and Baltimore Cup.

Local favorites Iago Cornes & Joe Russell will hope to entertain the home crowd with a first-round match against Graham Bassett & John Roberts, with the winner set to face Mariani & Reid in the second round.

England’s 2015 world doubles champion and world No. 8 John Russell & world No. 13 Raj Nanda oppose Mathur & Mudge as the two seeds in the draw’s bottom half. Russell has played with six different partners this season and will aim for his fourth final appearance and potentially first title of the season.

Russell & Nanda could face one of the most promising partnerships this season in the second round in the form of Bobby Burns & James Bamber. Burns, twenty-seven years old, and Bamber, twenty-one years old, reached the David C. Johnson Memorial semifinals as qualifiers, which included a quarterfinal upset against Russell & Berg. Burns & Bamber will play Scotsman and Missouri Athletic Club pro Adam Bews & Australian journeyman Jeff Osborne in their tournament opener.

The sole qualifying spot will be occupied by either Joshua Hollings & Jonathan Hyett or Mark & Ray Lindsay, and will slot in for a first-match against South African Clinton Leeuw & Jordan Greenberg. The winner of which will face the tournament’s three seeds, Imran Khan & Jacques Swanepoel.

The twelfth Tavern Club Invitational will prove to be historic by either augmenting its all-time title record, or welcoming two new names onto the tournament’s roll of champions.

Masterclass Mudge Wins Sixteenth Consecutive Johnson Memorial

johnson trophy crop
(l-r) Mike Ferreira, Yvain Badan, Damien Mudge, Manek Mathur

Damien Mudge continued his unprecedented David C. Johnson Memorial record title run with an incredible sixteenth consecutive title—and first with Manek Mathur—this weekend at the Heights Casino in Brooklyn.

In a full sixteen-team draw, Mathur, the world No. 1, and Mudge, world No 2, pulled off a perfect title run with four, three-game victories to claim the iconic bottles of Moet & Chondon champagne.

While Mudge & Mathur stole the headlines, the secondary story of the tournament came in the form of world No. 29 Bobby Burns & world No. 35 James Bamber, whose tournament began on Tuesday in the first of two rounds of qualifying.

After reaching the main draw via a difficult qualifying final against James Stout & Whitten Morris, Burns & Bamber won a five-game first round match against Raj Nanda & Hamed Anvari, before a major upset against three seeds John Russell & Viktor Berg. Two seeds Mike Ferreira & Yvain Badan, who narrowly escaped a quarterfinal upset against Imran Khan & Greg Park winning 15-14 in the fifth, eventually ended the young team’s run in a three-game semifinal.

Mudge & Mathur steadily progressed throughout the draw including a quarterfinal against first-time partners Bernardo Samper & Clive Leach and four seeds Jonny Smith & Chris Callis in the semifinals.

The top seeds continued their momentum in the final to win 15-12, 15-8, 15-14.

“It was a pretty strong performance going through the strength and depth of a tourney like that without dropping a game,” Mudge said. ” Number sixteen is pretty crazy to wrap my head around. Hasn’t really sunk in yet.”

Mudge’s record streak spans four partners: Gary Waite (2002-2007), Viktor Berg (2008-2010 and 2016), Gould (2011-15) and now Mathur. Waite comes in as the second all-time title holder with ten since the tournament’s inception in 1938.

“The Johnson has always been such a special event with so much history and a lot of familiar faces in the crowds,” Mudge added. “I just feel privileged to be a part of it. Will Bunn, Emily Lungstrum, Christian, the manager of the Heights, all did a spectacular job from start to finish. Thanks to everyone involved.”

“The tournament was an all round success for us,” Mathur said. “We went in playing well and our performance got better and better as we spent more time out there together. We had some tough matches, but managed to find ways to stay in front and keep the pressure on our opponents.”

Since their season-opening final loss against Ferreira & Badan at the Maryland Club in September, Mathur & Mudge have been undefeated on the season and won all six tournaments they have played in.

“The Heights is one of the most historic and prestigious events on tour,” Mathur added. “The community it has created is second to none and you just get embraced into it. Will Bunn did a tremendous job in organizing the event with the help of Bobby Burns. The guys in the pro-am were extremely excited and enthusiastic to be out there, which makes it fun for us to play in that draw as well.”

With National Doubles slated for this weekend, the tour will have a month off before heading to Philadelphia where Mathur & Mudge will lead the $25,000 Graham Company Cup draw, March 24-26.

“We have another month until our next event so between resting and fixing the bodies to preparing for the next event, we will be pretty busy,” Mathur said. “Looking forward to getting back out there!”

Qualifiers Garno & Stait Storm to R&TC Challenger Title

lolol
l-r: Greg McArthur, Imran Khan, Manek Mathur, Addison West, Alex Stait, Ed Garno

R&TC Challenger Draw

Before playing their first qualifying match in the 2016 Racquet & Tennis Club Challenger—the final event of the 2015-2016 SDA Tour season—Ed Garno was planning on flying to Florida Saturday or Sunday for a business meeting on Monday. Garno went on to foil his own plans as he and partner Alex Stait shocked the $15,000 R&TC draw to go on and become the first qualifiers to win a title during the SDA era.

The champions began their title run in what could be considered the deepest qualifying pool on the SDA tour with twelve teams vying for two sports in the eight-team main draw. Their first-round opponents were Germantown Cricket Club finalist James Stout, who Garno faced just a few weeks ago in the Mixed Doubles Open final, and partner Barney Tanfield.

“James is such a great player so we were really just hoping to get through that,” Stait said of the world racquets champion and world No. 35. “We did, but we were 14-11 down in the first game against them. If we lost that who knows what could have happened. We were pretty relaxed the whole way through. We just wanted to play and enjoy it. I hadn’t actually played since the last tournament because I had shoulder problems, so we really didn’t expect too much. To get past James, that was really the best we could have expected before the tournament.”

Stait, thirty-six, & Garno, forty-seven, then advanced to the main draw in three games over a significantly younger side in the form of James Bamber & Travis Judson.

In the top half of the main draw, both qualifiers wreaked havoc on the one and four seeds. Qualifiers Gilly Lane & Fred Reid recovered from losing the first two games to upset four seeds Andres Vargas & John Roberts in five. Stait & Garno shocked top seeds Randy Lim & Hamed Anvari in three games to set up an all-qualifier semifinal. Stait & Garno dropped their first game of the tournament against Lane & Reid, but turned the semifinal around to reach the final in four.

In contrast, the bottom half of the draw played out according to seeding until three seeds Imran Khan & Greg McArthur took down two seeds Bernardo Samber & Antonio Diaz in four games to reach the final.

A see-saw final put the qualifiers at an early disadvantage, dropping the first game 15-11. Stait & Garno stormed back by winning the second and third games at 14-14 on simultaneous game balls. Khan & McArthur forced a fifth game, in which Stait & Garno played their best squash of the tournament according to Stait.

“I think we just got on a roll,” Stait said. “We felt qualifying would be as hard as the main draw so we just got on a roll. We had a strategy and stuck to it. In the fifth game of the final we played our best squash of the weekend, and actually felt better then compared to the rest of the tournament.”

“We wanted to win a couple of qualifying matches as we always aim for, and just take it one match at a time,” Garno said. “We seemed to be playing pretty well winning each in three and kept building. After playing together for a few years now, we’ve noticed that we just can’t hit the ball hard so we need to use our shots and lobs to play smart so I think we’re finally starting to find that rhythm. Half of the fun was just being there and playing together. It’s thrilling for us because we never set the expectation of winning the tournament. We’ve really just been trying to get better as a partnership to tell the truth.”

Philadelphia-based Stait & Garno learned doubles together under the tutelage of Ned Edwards & Bill Doyle at Merion Cricket Club, and have played exclusively with each other on the SDA tour for the past few seasons.

“I think the most satisfying thing about it is the fact that Ed and I learned doubles together from Ned Edwards,” Stait said. “He and Bill Doyle taught us how to play a few summers ago at Merion. We learned together and have played together ever since. I think that’s really the key for us, playing together all of the time and enjoying it. It’s so much fun for us. R&T is probably the most prestigious club in America. The tournament was really well run. Manek did a great job. The crowd is always very knowledgeable. If you look at the winner’s boards there, it’s absolutely outrageous. Some of the best players in the world are on there so to win a tournament there is extremely special.”

“I’m speechless, it’s really hard to believe,” said Garno, who is also an R & T member. “For me personally, over the last three and a half years, the people I’ve met, the relationships I’ve made, the clubs I’ve visited traveling all over the country. That’s almost bigger than squash. I’ve enjoyed playing the game and learning the game. I’ve endured a few final losses recently in the Mixed, Century and William White, but I get right back on court on Monday. I truly love the game and the people associated with it. For me, I just enjoy it. It was an incredible event thanks to the professionalism of the staff, Manek Mathur and Addison West, the facilities and the fan support. I’ve never seen so many people stay so late for these matches. We couldn’t thank the pro staff and tournament committee enough.”